Why read Beirutreporter?

May 17, 2013

What we do and what not
You may never have heard about us. We are only a very small player with few resources. For many years we did only publish in German: from 2004 to 2009 daily news and analysis about Lebanon and – to a smaller extend – other countries of the Middle East.

There is lots of media and blogging outlets run by authors who are much more knowledgeable than we are and with whom we can´t compete. But we found a niche, and that is forecasting the course of major political events, especially in Lebanon.

We are not into commenting daily political infighting and bickering. We try to find clues to bigger shifts that leave real impact, which the usual skirmishes among politicians don’t.

We also take our time. Luckily, we are not under any pressure to publish. We do it when the time seems right. This might take long or come in short bursts.

Our estimations often seem daring. Actually, political forecasting is a risky business. Much cannot be explained and supported by facts, the day it is written, and so estimations are vulnerable and sometimes seem more like guess work.

It is often the overall experience of the writer, who tries to figure out and follow leads in a detective-like work: A situation is difficult to read, but there is something wrong, and proper instinct and a hopefully good nose in many cases seem better suited to us than pure academic argumentation.

One might see that too close to mere speculation. But we have good experience with this approach. Estimation – at the end  – is always somehow speculative. Military and intelligence services run departments, which lay out potential future scenarios. The more sophisticated ones hire people, who are not in line and use totally different methods than established routine work might suggest.

What we wrote
We started our work during the days of the so-called “Beirut-Spring” or “Cedar Revolution” in February 2005.

Early in March 2005, when the tents were still all over Martyrs’ Square, we wrote this so-called and highly celebrated “revolution” would fail and people only stick together as long as the Syrian army was in Lebanon.

Those nightly disputes and even fistfights between rivalling political youth groups in the tent camp were telling, underlying differences just too stark.

When the Syrian army had left at the end of April that year – intelligence services of course stayed put – all those “revolutionaries”, who had sworn to sit tight for the long haul and bring about big political change, just packed their tents upon the command of their leaders.

The “Cedar Revolution” was over, and the first chapter of the approaching “Arab Spring” did end in deep depression for those who had believed in it.

During those days we also said Michel Aoun was not going to become the undisputed Christian leader many had hoped for and bet on when he was received in downtown Beirut in a big celebration on May 7, 2005, from a 15-years-long exile in France.

We argued Christian leader Samir Geagea would only very slowly gain popularity against Aoun, given the bad blood spilled especially towards the end of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90) among Christian leaders and factions, but Geagea would eventually surpass Aoun, though that would be a long way to go for the former Lebanese Forces militia leader, who was released from jail in July 2005.

Aoun opened a string of deeply cutting volleys on his followers by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Shiite Hezbollah organisation in February 2006 and lost popularity ever since, experiencing his darkest days back home when he was denied the presidency of Lebanon after the Doha Agreement in May 2008 and – a year later – suffered an election defeat of the March 8 political bloc he is part of.

Geagea´s  popularity rose constantly, and currently – in May 2013 – our estimation is that he did at least catch up to Aoun, but there is no proof for that.

During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel we noted in the second week of the confrontation that Israel will not win this time. Hezbollah did not win either but it did bring to a halt the Israeli army – for the first time in history an Arab force was able to do that.

We also wrote this experience will logically have to lead to a new kind of lethal Israeli warfare and bring about total destruction in further rounds with enemies like Hezbollah.

Guerilla forces like Hezbollah or Hamas make use of human shields (their own populations and supporters), hide in neighbourhoods and attack their enemies from those locations, knowing a state like Israel cannot act easily against the Geneva Conventions and attack densely populated areas.

But next time Israel will do exactly that: force Hezbollah out in the open and pit a good part of its followers against the Shiite organisation – and the Lebanese nation as a whole.

Behind closed doors, even loyal Hezbollah supporters at that time did curse the organisation for exposing especially South Beirut and southern Lebanon to the Israeli onslaught. People in the Christian-dominated regions were boiling.

This future new approach by Israel was put into reality for the first time during operation “Cast Lead”, the assault on Gaza in 2008/09 and became publicly known as the “Dahiyeh Doctrine”, a new deterrence scheme. Dahiyeh is a Hezbollah stronghold in South Beirut.

In the run-up to the 2009 Lebanese parliamentary elections we argued the March 14 political bloc would win, while the general – and anxious – assessment in and outside Lebanon was the Hezbollah-dominated March 8 bloc would gain the upper hand. March 14 won on the 7th of June.

In May that year, we wrote in a lengthy series Walid Jumblatt – the Druze chieftain – was going to split from March 14 after experiencing the May 2008 events (Hezbollah taking over West Beirut) because he could not defend his Chouf mountain forever in a violent confrontation with Hezbollah.

During the May 2008 Beirut street battles his private militia surprised Hezbollah by unearthing and firing high calibre artillery shells into its rows when troops of the Shiite organisation tried to overrun his Chouf mountain strongholds.

But during those days Jumblatt told CNN pessimistically he was not sure what the future had in store. We took that as an early warning signal for his step to come, and it was logical, given his record of ever shifting allegiances.

One year later, in a Youtube video, which we regarded leaked deliberately as a public offer to March 8 and thus Hezbollah, Jumblatt talked badly about Christians and the March 14 alliance he belonged to. He split from March 14 in August, two months after the election.

Then came the “Arab Spring”, and we were offline at that time and did not write about our general reading of the unfolding situation: That the “Arab Spring” was going to fail, some strongmen might be toppled, but systems remaining basically the same, while the situation would be getting worse in all day life for people, and  democracy was not about to see the light of the day but conservative and political Islam would prevail.

Slowly, we began publishing again and were very sceptical about the daily predictions that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be toppled “soon” or “eventually”, as the amount of “experts” seemed to be growing by the day.

We wrote, the Assad state and system was cleverly set up by the late ruler Hafez al-Assad and his advisers to withstand this very scenario it was going through since the beginning of the uprising.

In summer 2012 we pinned down our first clear estimations that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was about to turn the tide in its favour: Opposition groups were too divided, they did not have the whole country behind them, Western countries were too hesitant in their support with game-changing weapons or an intervention, and the opposition was thus playing a loosing game.

In January 2013, we wrote about our impression that the big powers had come to a tacit agreement to let the Syrian government put down the uprising: Russia delivers weapons, and supporters of the opposition just don´t do anything.

In the weeks to come, two (to our knowledge, maybe more) history-aware Middle East experts talked about their impression of a Yalta agreement. Recently, the term Sykes–Picot Agreement is circulating as well.

Now, we are in May 2013, and Bashar al-Assad is still there. The Syrian army is recapturing lost territory on a scale that most observers would not have considered possible some weeks ago.

August 24, 2013
Since our last series of estimations in May we were – against the mainstream – on the right track.

The Syrian army is marching forward, rebels are getting more desperate.

No major player shows real appetite to supply the rebels with sophisticated weaponry or direct lethal help.

Lebanon remains stable. Several security incidents, including three huge car bombings, have not plunged the country into chaos.

The often cited “spillover” from Syria remains locally and did not drag the country into the Syrian civil war to a degree that many observers projected three months ago.

Though, every estimation has an expiry date. Especially the situation in Syria remains in flux and could gain steam in the months to come.